DETROIT - Matthew Stafford was in middle school when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl, a promising young quarterback who hoped to play in the NFL one day.
He emulated all manner of quarterbacks then, watching intently for something he could mimic in his own game.
Things haven't changed much in the last 20 years. Stafford is living his dream now, but he's still watching and studying other quarterbacks, including Brady.
"I think we all watched him on TV and games for a long time," Stafford said Tuesday, after the Detroit Lions and Patriots held their second of three joint practices before Thursday's preseason opener at Ford Field. "He's extremely consistent, obviously a really talented guy. Likes to talk about where he got drafted and all that, but he's got a lot of talent, too, so he still throws it really well. You can see it out there, he throws it great, so he's just doing the same old stuff he's always done well."
Stafford and Brady spent five or so minutes talking during a special-teams period in practice Monday.
Stafford said the conversation was casual and only tangentially related to work, but it's clear that after a decade in the league, he still holds Brady in high esteem.
"He's played at a high level for a really long time," Stafford said. "It's impressive what he's been able to do, and it's not like he's just coming out and playing OK ball. He's playing really high-level football and doing a nice job, so it's impressive."
For the Lions to reach the playoffs this fall after a two-year drought, they'll need Stafford to play his own brand of high-level football.
Stafford is coming off a season in which he threw for just 3,777 yards and had his lowest quarterback rating in four years, and he's learning a new offense that will debut publicly this week, even if he likely will not.
Last year, Stafford didn't play a single snap in the preseason opener, after the Lions spent a week practicing against the Oakland Raiders in Napa, Calif.
He said he's not sure how much he'll play Thursday.
"That's not my decision," he said. "Coach will figure that one out."
But all signs point to him and the offense being on track.
"I think terminology, scheme, assignment wise, yes," Stafford said. "I think guys are more and more comfortable. We've still got to execute at a higher level on a more consistent basis, but I'm probably going to say that until the last day I play football. You always want to be a little bit better than you are."
On Tuesday, Stafford looked sharp throwing against a talented Patriots secondary and marching the first-team offense downfield for a touchdown in a situational two-minute drill. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 43 yards on the drive, with his only incompletions coming on clock-killing spikes.
Danny Amendola caught two passes on the drive, and Stafford hit rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson for a 13-yard touchdown.
Amendola and Hockenson are two of a handful of new faces expected to play big roles on the Lions offense this fall, and both seem to have developed an easy chemistry with their quarterback.
Lions coach Matt Patricia said he doesn't have one specific goal in mind for his offense Thursday and is more concerned with how players perform individually.
Stafford said he can't pick out one thing, either, and that, "I just want us to keep working, keep building."
"It's not like one day it's going to sit out here and click and for the rest of our lives we're going to be perfect, and vice versa," Stafford said. "We got to prove it every day. You've got to go out there and compete, know what you're supposed to do, go out there, execute at a high level. Just cause you did it yesterday doesn't mean you can do it today, you've got to prove it every day and we got a bunch of good guys that come to work with that attitude and it's fun to be a part of."
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